Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is calling for a pilot project to train more first responders and supply them with naloxone, saying the fentanyl antidote has allowed Urgences-Santé paramedics to save the lives of 24 opioid overdose victims recently.

Coderre made the comments after meeting Tuesday with a working group to respond to a recent spate of apparent fentanyl overdoses that have killed a dozen drug users in Montreal since Aug. 1.

He didn't go so far as to label the growing presence of the potentially fatal synthetic opioid in Montreal a public health emergency, but he called the situation "an anticipated crisis."

"We were expecting that it was coming here," Coderre said.

He said the city is ready to amp up its plans to fight the arrival of fentanyl, which one Montreal community worker said has been found not just in heroin but in a range of drugs, including MDMA, PCP and cocaine.

Coderre said the fentanyl situation is both a public safety and a public health concern.

Among those who attended Tuesday's meeting were Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet, the head of the fire department, Bruno Lachance, the provincially appointed director of public health, Dr. Richard Massé, the city executive committee member in charge of public safety, Anie Samson, and her counterpart in charge of social diversity and homelessness, Monique Vallée.

Coderre said in addition to Urgences-Santé paramedics, community workers at around 20 frontline agencies and workers at safe-injection sites have already received training in the use of naloxone.

Regulatory change needed

Coderre said he supports calls to increase the number of workers trained to administer naloxone — including police officers and firefighters. He said that will require the Quebec Health Ministry to change existing regulations, but that such training could begin quickly with the launch of a pilot project.

Massé said the Health Ministry is already looking at a request to increase the availability of the fentanyl antidote.

"Certainly, we are willing to expand access to naloxone because it's one of the tools we have to confront the situation," Massé said.